Philosophy Harvard University of California book on Assholes: A Theory

Nice white paper cover, smooth ergonomic papers, not too long.

Aaron James:

I’m a philosophy professor (details below) who thinks, writes, and teaches in ethics and political philosophy.

Ph.D. in Philosophy, Harvard University; Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of California, Irvine; awarded the Burkhardt Fellowship by the American Council of Learned Societies, spending the 2009-10 academic year at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. Visiting Professor at NYU for Fall 2013.

I mainly write for academics (in professional journals and in a recent book on fairness in the global economy). I have plans for a book on social practices and global justice, and grander intellectual ambitions, for the long haul, that run across my research areas of moral theory, political philosophy, and the foundations of ethics.

All of this can be strenuous, so I’ve also begun to dabble in popular writing, in hopes of contributing to public life in more direct and (if I’m lucky) more entertaining ways. I wrote a book about assholes. I’ve got ideas for a book about surfing and what it shows about the human condition, how to live, and capitalism. (I’ve been an avid surfer since my early teens, so a book about surfing and philosophy would join my life’s two more central preoccupations.)

“James’s keen intelligence overwhelms you, and you realize that Assholes is helpful, stimulating, and very timely.” —Nick Hornby, The Believer

What does it mean for someone to be an asshole? The answer is not obvious, despite the fact that we are often stuck dealing with people for whom there is no better name. We try to avoid them, but assholes are everywhere—at work, at home, on the road, in the public sphere—and we struggle to comprehend why exactly someone should be acting like that.

Asshole management begins with asshole understanding. Finally giving us the concepts to discern why assholes disturb us so, philosopher Aaron James presents a provocative theory of the asshole to explain why such people exist, especially in an age of raging narcissism and unbridled capitalism. We get a better sense of when the asshole is best resisted and best ignored—a better sense of what is, and what is not, worth fighting for.

Hot on the heels of Geoffrey Nunberg’s Ascent of the A-Word (2012) comes another discussion of assholes and what to do about them. Actually, that’s a bit too glib: James, a philosophy professor, takes a slightly different approach than Nunberg. Where Nunberg focused on the history of assholism (with side trips into such subjects as the difficulties in writing about assholes without censorship), James proposes a theory of assholes (a person is an asshole when his sense of entitlement makes him immune to complaints from other people) that explains not only why assholes are a vital part of human society, but also how to recognize them and coexist with them. The author addresses some fundamental questions—such as whether assholes are born or made, a sort of nature-versus-nurture debate for the asshole crowd—and rigorously avoids what must have been a strong temptation to go for the cheap laugh (although it must be pointed out that this is definitely a lighter book than Nunberg’s more academic study).


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